Busking in Sydney: Reclaiming Martin Place


London, UK
I woke early, resolved to make today a day worth remembering. I was determined to reclaim my normal playing spot from Ming the violinist and his evil amplifier. For the last two days' busking, I had meekly surrendered a spot I considered my own and today it was going to stop. With the soundtrack to the morning in my ears and a spring in my step, I advanced through the streets of Sydney towards the enemy position, stopping briefly in the Pitt St mall area. This was where I had been gazumped by the only other busking saxophone player I had seen. There was not a musician to be seen. The little voice in my head which likes the path of least resistance slyly suggested that I set up shop there and then. I ignored its insistent whispering. I had unfirnished business on Martin Place and I was spoiling for a musical showdown.

Onwards down Pitt St, as I drew closer, I removed my eraphones and was greeted by the sounds of....traffic. Where was the violin? For that matter, where was the music? How odd. Maybe there was some buskers' holiday I hadn't known about. I looked in front of the fountain, noone there. I checked In front of the flower stand where Flamenco boys normally set up. Not a soul. Oh well, no musical fisticuffs for me today. I felt quite elated as I reclaimed my spot in front of the war memorial.

I sat crossed legged on the floor to begin my ritual preparations. Bottle of water on my left, notepad and pen to the right. Saxophone in my lat. I wrote out a set list with all the songs I intended to play and from my low vantage point, I took a few minutes to watch the world go by, sipping water and wetting a reed. For those unfamiliar with the saxophone's workings, the reed is the small sliver of cane which vibrates, making the sax sound. I good reed makes playing easy and makes you sound good. A bad reed makes simple notes hard to reach and makes your horn sound as if it has socks stuffed into it. I tried two duff reeds in a row before thinking "sod it - it's time to play".

I started my leisurely warm up with scales patterns, arppeggios and long notes. Three minutes after honking out these not-so-pretty sounds, someone came up and dropped a dollar coin into my case.

In the film "Dangerous Liaisons", Glen Close's character chides someone for performing a paltry task and expecting praise, purring "One doesn't applaud the tenor for clearing his throat". Well, In Martin Place, they simply pay you instead. The solitary dollar sat there looking back at me, a comforting acknowledgement of the fact that someone thought that my playing was worth paying money for today.

A little boy stood a few feet from me, watching me intently. I smiled at him and tried to dance a little as I played, but he remained unmoved. He clasped and unclasped his hands anxiously while deciding whether to smile, dance or run away. A second little boy came along and stood right beside him, drawn to the dancing man with the loud shiny thingy. The first boy looking perturbed, moved a couple of feet away and continued to play with his fingers. The second child, grinned and followed him, stoppping mere inches away. This game continued for around 5 mins before the first youth's nervous disposition won out and he took refuge behind his mothers legs.

New Songs:
My inner peace and quietitude lent itself well to trying some rather unfinished songs. I attempted and fumbled my way through "Take 5", "Nature Boy" and the second half of "Cathleen" from Riverdance. It felt a little like cheating and I am glad, while doing that, noone put money in my case. Thinking back to an earlier observation about staying in-character while on stage, trying out new songs was quite an amateur thing to do. For a performance involving the appreciation of a largely mobile audience, it is a little foolhardy to be have any time spent fumbling around when your bum notes might be the only thing that is heard or remembered. Practice at home, perform when on stage.

Thank Yous:
It has now happened enough times that I will no longer attribute it to chance. When someone puts money in my case, I tend to stop and say "thank you". On several occasions, the person has stopped and replied "no, thank you". It must be very soothing to have some saxophone with your sandwiches at lunchtime. A busker came over and dropped $2 into my case. I felt warm, fuzzy and appreciated. I said "Thank You".

The state of mind with which I approach tasks and the energy which I bring to it has a dramatic effect on the outcome of that task. Comparing my calm and positive mindset of this afternoon with the harried and annoyed state I was in last time I busked, the results of your state are very obvious. My playing radiates it, people respond to it and the amount of cash you have to show at the day reflects it. Even when the Flamenco duo turned up 40 mins into my set and began playing at the other end of Martin Place, I simply played harder until the end of my set, smiled at a job well done and dropped a dollar into their case on the way past. A nice way to mark the end of my first week as a busker in Sydney.

Total earnings: $45.05 for just over one hour's work.

Free Hugs:
With a decent pocketful of change, as I crossed the Pitt St mall, there were still no musicians, but a all man stood in the centre with a wide smile, kind eyes and a sign proclaiming "Free Hugs". I also noticed a well-groomed blonde lady attempting to remain inconspicuous in the shade with a professional DSLR camera with a lens long enough to reach her waist. She really would have flunked out of spy school if she was supposed to have been taking surrepticious shots of the hugs. What I really noticed was how many people walked by or didn't even notice the man. I saw the sign. I collected my freebie, shook his hand, took a picture and walked off smiling.
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